Minnesota band takes back land to ease tribal homelessness

Published 10:39 pm Thursday, October 12, 2017

LEECH LAKE RESERVATION — An American Indian tribe in northern Minnesota has decided not to renew nearly 350 waterfront lot leases, meaning non-tribal cabin owners will have to vacate their cabins.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe leaders told Minnesota Public Radio they want to reclaim the land as part of a plan to address the reservation’s growing homelessness problem.

That means that this fall, nearly 75 cabin owners will have to sell their cabins to a band member, move the structure off the property or leave the cabin behind. Though the cabin owners lease the land, they still own the cabins.

Email newsletter signup

Dave Knowlton plans to move his mobile home. He said it’s difficult to sell the permanent structures because the only people allowed to buy them are Leech Lake band members. The tribal government requires structures to be converted into year-round homes, with a well and septic system.

“It’s their sovereign nation here. This is their land,” Knowlton said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I appreciate the time I’ve had here. I just wish I had more.”

Jim and Gail Hinkemeyer had just retired and planned to spend their summers at a small family cabin on Leech Lake. The couple said they likely won’t sell their cabin, but aren’t sure if they can find cabin movers in time to relocate the structure.

“I’m to the point where, do I laugh or do I cry?” Gail Hinkemeyer said. “That’s where you’re left, because you’re not going to change it.”

The lots will be consolidated and homesteaded by 80 tribal families, said Levi Brown, Leech Lake Natural Resources Director. Phasing out the leases will cost the department about $500,000 a year, he said.

While some have understood the lease decision, others haven’t taken it so well, he said. Brown said he’s been yelled at, called names and received death threats since the leases began expiring.

“It’s been tough,” Brown said. “Tough to know that you’re doing something that is going to really help the future generations and echo some social change but, at the same time, have people tell you that it’s wrong.”

Some 500 homeless tribe members are looking for places to live on the reservation and 100 others are applying for tribal land allotments where they can build a home.